Sunday, February 22, 2009

Crossing the Equator

The 'Crossing The Equator' ceremony is for those who are crossing the equator for the first time. So it makes sense that I experienced the initiation ceremony as a newcomer to the Galapagos and to the equator. I enjoyed playing the role of a pirate, wearing a patch on my eye and a red bandanna and making loud and raucous pirate noises. It was a hoot to see my husband half naked carrying a trident and wearing a crown as King Neptune. His princess was a lovely young Indian woman who looked regal in her queenly attire. We all had a script, but I have no recollection of the words or the import. There was some sort of ingestion of mysterious liquid, and ultimately pouring of water on those participating in the ceremony. Drinking and dancing followed late into the evening.

The ceremony originated in the early 1900's as a initiation ritual for new sailors who had not yet crossed the equator. Essentially it was a hazing event, the new sailors demeaned and harassed by their more experienced colleagues. Ultimately it was the hazing nature of the ritual that resulted in its discontinuation. There has been no mention of the event these past two years on the Santa Cruz. Apparently some passengers had been disturbed by some aspect of the reenactment, so much so that the whole event has been nixed, not even discussed.

Eric thought of bringing costumes and coming up with a script so that we can arrange our own ceremony. I am not sure the alumni we are with will have any interest in participating, I would imagine that the students would be more enthusiastic. In the end, I want to celebrate the crossing in some way, not public, not loud and raucous, but actively and reverently. I believe we cross the equator several times during our trip. 

I am sitting at a conference on eating disorders this afternoon. Although I will not be working as a psychiatrist in Ecuador ( it takes far too long to get a license to practice medicine), I wonder how much eating disorder exists there. I do not believe there is a tradition of psychiatry in Ecuador. My impression is that seeing a psychiatrist is not generally accepted and that there is a significant stigma associated with seeing psychiatrists. Last year at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Washington DC, I tried to attend all the events related to psychiatry in South America. These were limited and poorly attended, suggesting that psychiatry remained sidelined and irrelevant.  I hope to learn more when I am living in Quito.

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